The UL Administration has requested proposals for a campus master plan. UL has many shortcomings to overcome, but the campus and the community have strengths that can turn those liabilities into assets, through Smart Growth development.

University of Louisiana, Smart Growth CommunityRecently, UL published a Requested For Proposals (RFP) for a housing master plan, to more than triple the number of students currently living on campus. This is not simply a goal to boost enrollments and swell University coffers; expanding the on-campus population provides a number of powerful advantages for the University that simply expanding enrollments will not accomplish.

First, a strong residential community serves as a multiplier to the intellectual and cultural life of the classroom. Given enough serious students on campus, the conversations that begin in the class, the lab or the theatre, continue into the dorm, the apartment, the Union and the library.

Second, a strong campus community enhances the liveliness of the university, and as such is a natural recruiting tool. Visit any college with a large on-campus community, and there is a vibrancy to the place that often continues around the clock. One friend describes visiting the University of Texas-- one of the largest schools in the country-- and seeing students riding their bikes to and from academic halls at 2:00 AM.

Those first two are essential to this essay. While considering how to grow the on-campus community, it is important to remember that one of the extrinsic benefits of that effort is critical to the mission of the University: to produce intellectually engaged, broadly educated citizens. If we can design a campus that enhances the intellectual energy of the University, then UL will become all the more successful in our efforts.

Beyond those two, the third reason to enlarge on-campus numbers is because of good research which shows that students who spend their first year or two living on campus are more likely to graduate, more likely to become loyal alumni who return to the campus and support the university socially, politically, and financially, and to locate in the local community after graduation, where they grow the local economy and elevate the quality of life for everyone. Also the research supports the preceding:  an on-campus population is more successful at engaging students with academics and extracurricular activities at the institution.

Traditionally, a response to an RFP is an overview of a very specific conceptual project, designed to fit within a given budget. The institution issuing the RFP generally picks a single project for development & implementation.

I wish to respond to the RFP. I am not, however, an architect, engineer nor urban planner. Nevertheless I have some novel comments to inject into the discussions. So I am framing my response in a broad, conceptual way, one that is general, non-exclusive, and budget-independent.

The first thing to recognize is that UL has quite a number of liabilities:

1. Tiny Campus. UL's campus is very small for the number of students served. UL's enrollment fluctuates between 16,000 & 17,000 students, making it one of the three largest institutions in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. Despite our size, our main campus comprises only 132 acres. The University of Arkansas, with 14,000 students, has a campus of 357 acres. Ole Miss, with an enrollment of around 10,000, has a 1,000 acre campus.

But UL is small even among Louisiana campuses. ULM, with 7400 students-- less than half of UL's enrollment-- has a 238 acre main campus. Louisiana Tech, with only 8800 students, has a campus of 255 acres. UNO, whose pre-Katrina enrollment approached UL's, occupies 345 acres of some of the most valuable and scenic property in the state of Louisiana.

Oddly enough, UL's 132 acres is small even by UL standards: the New Iberia Research Center covers 120 acres; the UL Research Park on Congress Street, 148 acres; the Athletic Complex, 243 acres; and the Cade Experimental Farm comprises 600 acres. Truth is, UL's various local facilities amount to over 1350 acres, more than 10 times the size of our main campus. If contiguous, this total would make UL one of the very largest campuses in the South, but our main campus is nevertheless tiny.

2. Gross Underfunding. With only one or two exceptions, the leadership of Louisiana has shown little interest in providing quality education for our children throughout our history. Louisiana governors from carpetbaggers to Huey Long and beyond, either have not understood the essential role that education plays in economic development and quality of life, they have not had the vision and political courage to do anything about it-- or too often, both.

This means that UL and all of the schools in our state chronically suffer from underfunding; and this means that state funds for developing the UL campus through expansion or by any other traditional approach will be difficult to come by.

3. Underdeveloped Campus Community. As noted in the introduction, a strong on-campus residential community generates multiple benefits for an institution. Despite being one of the older and larger schools in the South, UL is still very much a commuter campus.

4. Overworked Students. Too many of our students work too many jobs. Because of anecdotal reports of a few students driving high-end cars and wearing expensive clothes around UL, there is a common misconception that our students have more than sufficient money for their schooling, as well as increased fees for tuition, technology, even athletics. This, unfortunately, does not appear to hold true for many or perhaps most of our students. A very large number of them work one or more jobs, borrow money to go to school-- and still can't keep up with their bills.

It would be very interesting to see actual data of what percentage of our students have to work and borrow to pay for school. To the point of this essay, it would also be valuable to know how many of those students must work, not only to pay tuition, room, board, and other essentials, but also in order to keep up a car note, car insurance, gas & repairs-- so that, ironically, they may attend a commuter college, and travel too and from several jobs.

The main concern for our students should not be financial however, but cultural. The need to work long hours prevents our students from participating in the University community beyond the absolute minimum of rote learning and test-taking. As such, they cannot engage in the wealth of extracurricular University activities that not only enrich the intellectual experience of the institution, but actually justify the University's existence. Without a rich out-of-class culture, universities are hard-pressed to prove any advantage over vo-tech schools, community colleges, and even distance-learning programs.

5. Parking. All campuses suffer from a shortage of parking spaces. Because of our large enrollment, small campus, and commuter population, UL has an even greater shortage of on-campus parking than most.

6. Campus Blight. (Read about University Blight & University Bling) The University has over 14 acres of unsightly property on the southwest side of E. Lewis Street, comprising aging and derelict housing, rusting maintenance buildings, shell parking lots, and other tarnished goods. This property also fronts one of the local coulées, which in most of Lafayette are treated as eyesores, but which other communities have used as a landscaping assets.

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